There are Charles Carsons in every village in the world. Which begs the question, who the heck is Charles Carson? Charles Carson encapsulates the creative, quirky, filmmaking, story telling energy and activity that pulses through communities and is so often unsung. And he’s the subject of the documentary A Life On The Farm, which is touring the South West along with a Q&A with director Oscar Harding about this intriguing film in September.
“If he were around, he’d be on Tik Tok,” Oscar tells D&CFilm. “He’d have been there at the early days of YouTube. He would have been uploading his films, the moment he could get an internet connection on the farm.”
Charles Carson was an avid, backyard indie filmmaker, who would make videos and distribute them to everyone in the village. A Life On The Farm not only celebrates the creativity, but also takes a look at rural life in the South West.
The story of A Life On The Farm goes back to 2006 when Oscar’s granddad passed away. While clearing his possessions, the family came across a video that they had a vague recollection of watching. That sparked memories of 10-year-old Oscar watching the film with his kid sister.
“We watched it and my dad switched it off halfway through, and I never I knew why,” says Oscar. The images would pop into his head every so often. Then, one of his production partners holidayed in the West Country, and had an eccentric time. This inspired Oscar to share stories of the video he’d watched as a child and he obsessed about finding it again. Luckily, an aunt had a copy.
“When you’re a kid, your memories are kind of embellished. Things can seem more exciting or great than it is,” says Oscar. “This was even better than I remember it being as a kid. This footage was so extraordinary.”
Determined to make something out of the footage rather than it being a family curiosity, Oscar considered making a short. But then he moved to America.
“I noticed that in America, they have a real culture of people finding ‘found footage’ like this, and showing it to audiences – it’s very, very popular,” he says.
Step in Nick and Joe at the Found Footage Festival, who backed up the enthusiasm with some funds. Interviews started happening in Somerset.
An incredible life story
“The more we heard, the more we realized that this man had an incredible life story,” says Oscar. “When you learn about him as a human being and an artist, you can’t help but fall in love with what he’s trying to do, and why he’s doing it.
“The community were welcoming and supportive of us, in large part because of my family connection,” says Oscar, whose grandparents were active in the village. “A lot of people knew them both.”
“I have a responsibility to him to make sure that we’re not painting him in a negative light,” says Oscar, who took that responsibility further, to look at rural communities.
“We got a psychologist who specializes in rural mental health. And there’s a focus on the Somerset farmers that we have in the film. They’re talking about how things have changed and how the community has changed. That was a really important part of the film.
“I absolutely hold that responsibility on my shoulders,” says Oscar.
It’s that appreciation of the rural aspect that makes the West Country tour so special to Oscar, who started his filmmaking career at school in Taunton.
“I’ve always been really proud of where I’m from, he’s from Huish Champflower. I was born in Bristol, and I grew up in a town, a seaside town nearby. But you know, Edgar Wright was always an inspiration.”
Also cites Mark Jenkin as producing distinctly regional films. “I’d love to make more out in Somerset and Devon, and Cornwall.”
West Country heritage
Second unit director, Nathan Powles, is also from Huish and his granddad is one of the farmers interviewed in the film. Nathan shot a short film on the same farm – it’s called The Gentleman Farmer and stars Ed Rowe (Bait, Enys Men), and is screening alongside A Life On The Farm at several of the cinemas.
Oscar will be at every screening of the West Country tour.
“I love it,” he says. “Audiences react the same way we did when we saw this for the first time. You’ve got nothing but questions about this guy and his life and his work and his legacy.
Life and legacy
“I’ve only done Q and A’s in America at this point, So I’m really excited to actually go and speak to British people about this very distinctly British film. And I’m really excited to do this. We’re going to my hometown of Clevedon, we’re going to Charles’s hometown, Huish Champflower.
“I’m really excited to speak to the people who this film is ultimately about. I’m really looking forward to just having fun with this tour, and sharing this with the West Country.”
- I Want This | Micha Colombo puts poetry in pictures - December 7, 2023
- Christmas, 1978 | Lara Fullalove gets real with family tensions - December 5, 2023
- Saint Austell | Matt Harris efferveses and simmers in comedy doc - December 4, 2023